Saturday, February 6, 2010

Top Finds of 2009 / BilT Guitars

There are a lot of cats playing their card at designing unique and interesting guitars these days. I can't remember ever coming across so many exciting and talented luthiers in all the time I've been a musician. The last couple years has been a wonderful explosion of original and innovative guitar designs. If you look you can find a guitar of just about every style and flavor, from vintage vibed to modern space age creations. For me there are a few things that have to come into play in order for me to be attracted to an instrument. 1. The instrument has to have a high level of playability. 2. Great tone. 3. It must have something all it's own. 4. Must have class. and 5. It has to be cooler than cool. Masterminds behind the BilT Guitars line Bill Henns and Tim Thelen have not only taken all these factors into play, but have gone far and wide into the realms of creativity to build what is now one of the most spectacular guitar designs to ever hit the music scene. Bilt offers one model with a more traditional vibe to it, a classic style guitar with great looks and great quality. The other guitar is something really special though, a guitar with on board effects consisting of a analog delay and fuzz circuit. With cats stacking their boards with endless amount of pedals these days what better tool to have than a guitar capable of dishing out some killer effects. The Bilt guitars are guitars fit for the everyday player, the professional, and the experimentation freak. Vintage freaks and modern cats alike will find an ultimate level of satisfaction from these amazing instruments, and find themselves swimming in a sea of stunning possibilities. Analog War Cry gives Bilt Guitars two thumbs up, a solid 5 stars, and all the props in the world.... with a cherry on top!

BilT Guitars
Des Moines, IA
Crew: Bill Henss & Tim Thelen



What She's Made Of

* Neck: Hard Maple w/bound rosewood fingerboard. A 7 1/4 to 91/2 inch compound radius. Kluson tuners. Bone nut. A 2-way truss rod with slot head heel adjustment.

* Body: Alder in custom colors with the standard range of pickguard options.

* Hardware: The Mastery Bridge!! A modified USA Jazzmaster style tremolo.

* Pickups: Seymour Duncan Antiquities, Jazzmaster bridge/neck, Jaguar middle. Open to custom combos and variations.

* Color Options: Lake Placid Blue, Sonic Blue, Dakota Red, Olympic White, 3-Tone Burst, Ice Blue Metallic, Sherwood Green, Seafoam Green, Black. Open to color suggestions.


Controls & Onboard Effects

* 3-Position Toggle Switch
* Master Volume
* Master Tone
* Input Jack: Cuts Power to Effects when Unplugged
* Neck Preset Circuit: Preset Volume/Preset Tone

Fuzz Circuit
* On/Off Power Switch
* On/Off Oscillate Switch
* Fuzz Drive

Analog Delay
* On/Off Power Switch
* On/Off Modulation Switch
* Feedback Knob
* Mix Knob
* Delay Time Knob


I don't even know where to start, everything about this guitar left me with my jaw on the floor. T
he entire build design from headstock to bottom strap button is absolute eye candy. The Relevator plays like a dream, sounds stunning, and it's looks are cool as ice. Just holding the guitar in your hands you'll notice it's a top quality, remarkable instrument. The neck shape is a perfect blend between the best of both the vintage and modern worlds. I was able to get around the frets comfortably, never found my hand cramping, and didn't have a problem with fretting out. The beauty of the neck's design is topped off with cream/white binding and lovely rosewood fretboard that gives it an elegant vibe. The alder body feels perfectly balanced and is carved with both arm and tummy cuts. The body is fitted with the highest quality hardware and sports an array different controls which give the Relevator an enormously wide range of sounds and possibilities. The Relevator we got to demo came equipped with Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups, Jazzmaster style pickups for the neck/bridge, and Jaguar style pickup middle. The guitar's bridge consists of the super cool and dead-on accurate Mastery Bridge, if you guys aren't hip on these do some homework, you'll be glad you did. The pop-in tremolo arm makes for a user friendly feature and also works and feels great. There are master Tone and Volume knobs, 3-way toggle switch, and pickup slider selector which lets you choose every pickup combo imaginable. There is also a Neck Preset Circuit which consists of an on/off switch, Volume slider, and Tone Slider. When the Neck Preset is on it shuts off all other pickups, which works great for being able to switch into a mellower/warmer tone on the fly. The Relevator's fuzz circuit is simple, on/off switch, oscillation on/off switch, and fuzz drive slider which controls the amount of fuzz. The analog delay circuit (and probably my favorite part of the guitar) is built with on/off power switch, modulation switch, feedback, mix, and delay controls. Last the cats at Bilt Guitars provide you with a power supply that runs power to the onboard effects via a stereo guitar cable. The power supply also comes with two extra DC power outputs for powering other effect pedals. WOW! Now that's what I call a well rounded tone machine.

"Nice and Clean"
We started out by testing the Relevator just as a normal guitar, no effects, no nothing. Just the actual guitar itself played through all of it's pickups and pickups combinations. Amp of choice was going to be tuff, so we just pulled them all out. The first amp to dance with the Relevator was my modified 4x10 Deville, clean channel, eq at 7, reverb at 2, guitar in it's neck pickup position. I began with some simple chord work and blues riffs, started digging in, then let loose and hammered away like a mad man. The neck felt great, tremolo arm reacted beautifully to my touch, and the sound that came out of the amp was just stunning. It had a nice vintage vibe, full of warmth and clarity. The pickup created a nice bouncy tone that reminded me of bands like Television, The Jam, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana. The combination of both outer pickup made things even more interesting. With both neck and bridge pickup I was able to cover much more ground, get more bite from the sound, and lots more jangle. With just the right touch I was able to get bit of hair out of the sound, perfect for clean, aggressive rhythm work. While in this pickup setting I rolled off a bit of the tone and actually was able to dial in a pretty sweet sounding jazz tone. This was a nice surprise, nice jazz tones always make up great blues tones once a bit of overdrive is added into the mix. Next I kicked in the bridge pickup alone. The sound stayed just as defined as before only with more bell-like tones and midrange honk. In fact, I got some killer rhythm guitar tones form the bridge pickup as well. Two thumbs up for Bilt choice of Antiquity's.

"A Bit of Grit"
Round two for the Relevator consisted of more of the same, only this time through overdriven amps and some of our favorite dirt boxes. We started with a Princeton reissue we had on loan that week, set it loud enough to get it to break up, and threw a TS808 style pedal on top of it. I switched into the guitar's neck pickup and let her rip, first without the TS808 engaged. I was able to get as much or as little grit from the amp as I wanted just by the level of my pick attack. I could from a natural, semi-crunchy amp tone, to a straight out balls to the wall overdrive. Next I kicked in the Tube Screamer. The sound that came flying out of the amp stood the hairs up on my arm and pulled the breath out of my lungs. It was one of the most massive sounds I had ever heard come from such a little amp. The 15 watts of tube grit, dirt box, and Relevator ended up probably being my favorite sound of the entire demo. The natural beauty of the guitar's sound mixed with the amp and pedal created the perfect rhythm rock tone. The harder the pedal pushed the amp, and the more I dug into the strings, the better the overall sound. I hit the guitar with bends, double stops, and harmonics and got great sounds each and every time. The sound was rich, full of character, and very woody. Next on the menu was plugging the Relevator into something a bit more power, something that would shake the walls and the floor. What better amp for the job than a 100 watt Super Lead? My partner did his little magic setup of jumping the amp's channels, mixing them to his liking, and setting the output level to a ground shaking volume. The outcome was a loud'n'proud, rock and roll sound. The combo of the bridge and neck pickup once again came through beautifully. The guitar created a smooth, creamy overdrive tone with great string balance, and lots of variety. The tremolo also delivered magnificent results, and Mastery bridge kept intonation spot-on. No matter how much I pulled or wiggled the tremolo arm, or how hard I played the guitar. The Relevator was able to stay in tune beautifully. Sign of high quality, great build, and hard work. I also rolled back the guitar's volume and was able to dial in some mellow, warm overdrive tones. Another option for getting a mellower tone from the guitar was it's Neck Preset Circuit. With the Neck Preset Circuit you can roll off both volume and tone, and switch it in and out via it's own on/off switch. Leaving the rest of the guitar's controls free from change and giving you a winder range of sounds. Next we dialed back the amp's tone to a subtle crunch and fed it a bunch of different fuzz boxes. We took out vintage boxes, extreme fuzz pedals, and boutique pieces. All of them sounded great with the guitar and sounded wonderful with each pickup combo. One of the pickup settings that really stood to me was the middle Jaguar style pickup. The sound of the middle pickup through a nice, fat, vintage style fuzz created one of the most intense fuzz tones I've ever heard. In the end the Relevator proved to be a great playing, great sounding, and extremely versatile guitar.

"Onboard Effects"
Now here is where things got super duper fun. For this we broke out the Twin Reverb and dialed it in to the most sparkling clean tone possible. I gave the tone a hint of verb, cranked the volume to 4, and set all eq knobs at 7. The sound of the Twin Reverb and Relevator alone was immaculate. The root tone had everything I wanted in it to be able to build off of. Each pickup position produced it's own special tone, full of richness, clarity, and versatility. Then we kicked in the Relevator's onboard fuzz circuit and the sound turned into a fuzzy, furry, wall of class A tone. We set the fuzz circuit to a mild, gritty growl, without the oscillation switch engaged. The sound was a pure, spot-on authentic vintage fuzz sound. Some of the fuzz tones I was getting from the guitar were better than some of the pedals I have. The more I gain I fed the fuzz the hairier and nastier it got, just as good and responsive as any fuzz box I'd ever played. I'll be honest, at first I thought the onboard fuzz was going to be janky and generic. This was not the case, not-at-all. Fully cranked the Relevator's fuzz turned into a screaming force of complex harmonics and undertones. It sounded great with single note runs and chords. The sound of the Relevator's fuzz is somewhere between a blend of a thick treble booster and vintage fuzz box. I could dig into a note, hold it for as long as I wanted, or shake it and manipulate it a wild and aggressive howl. Once the oscillation was introduced to the sound things became even cooler. To control the oscillation's sound you just take the drive knob and turn this way and that. The fuzz circuit's control does not end there though, no sir. On the back of the guitar inside the back panel you will find not one, or two, or even three, but five thumb wheels used for shaping and tailoring your fuzz tone to your liking. That's more tonal control than some pedals are capable of! This assures you'll be able to match or dial in the fuzz tone of your liking.

The analog delay circuit on the Relevator is also top notch and great sounding. It reminded me of a great sounding vintage tape-echo machine. All of the cool tones and sounds you can get from a great quality analog delay are possible with the Relevator's delay circuit. The delay is controlled by a on/off power switch, on/off oscillation switch, feedback knob, mix knob, and delay knob. Inside the back panel of the guitar are also width and speed controls for the modulation sound. All of these controls together make up for one of the most versatile delay units you will ever come across, and the best part is it lives on your guitar not your pedalboard! First I dialed a short, slapback style delay sound without any modulation. With the mix knob I was able to make the delay sound as present or laid back as I wanted. This is great for those subtle delay tones you want more as a little layer and not so much an effect. Next I dialed in a medium length delay tone, mellow mix, and a subtle amount of modulation. I was able to get just the right amount of delay effects with nice pristine, and warm repeats. The possibilities were endless. The guitar;s delay was capable of subtle delay, long delay tones, country slapback tones, spaced out delay sounds, and everything in between each of these. The guitar's delay circuit sounded and worked great with overdrivers, fuzz tones, and distortions. Setting in a delay sound of your if your liking is as easy as reaching down and fiddling with a few controls, all without the need of fussing with a pedalboard. For those of you looking for a versatile guitar with effect capabilities and great tone, the Relevator is a great choice. Even for those of you just looking for a killer quality guitar Bilt makes a version of the Relevator without the onboard effects. Either way the guitar plays great which is the most important thing. Bilt Guitars is open to different pickup cobmbinations and types, and willing to work with you on the color of your guitar. It doesn't get much better than that. For those of you curious to get more info on the Relevator we have posted some demo video from Bilt Guitars at the bottom of this article, check them out and enjoy!

For more info on Bilt Guitars go to You will find a ton of great information, more video demos, and a bunch of great pics of different colors and pickup styles. We highly suggest anyone looking for something new, exciting, or outside the norm to look into Bilt Guitars Relevator's. Dig it!!


  1. man those are some very impressive instruments. looks like incredible workmanship and creative genius' at work! can't wait to get mine!

  2. Absolutely stunning!

  3. they make a nice bass too - I got the first one!

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